Sunday, 11 December 2011

Oakbank - a national treasure

Cadogan and Hall were at Oakbank races last Friday afternoon (9 December) for the Christmas in the Hills meeting.  It was a splendid occasion and this event really should become one of the social highlights of the run-up to Christmas.  There was a good-sized crowd (many firms treating the event as a works outing) but it was not excessively large, meaning that there was room for kids to run around and play (and well done ORC on all the free entertainment), you could get a bet on easily and there were no queues for a drink or a bite to eat.  Even getting in and out of the carpark was without anguish.

The racing itself was not necessarily out of the top drawer in terms of class, although there were some tight finishes and it was pleasing to see a race over a bit of distance, the Austbrokers Terrace Handicap being run over 2150 metres (Forcryingoutloud being caught on the line by Birchmore Road in the best finish of the day).

But at this time of the year, the racing is not the real reason for going to Oakbank.  The atmosphere is of course what draws us up into the Hills and in this respect Oakbank can't be bettered.

There is - thankfully - nothing manicured about Oakbank.  It looks as it has looked for as long as we can remember and no doubt it was looking the same for some time before that too.  There is wood, there is corrugated iron, there is grass.  That's about it.  The toilets (the gents', at least) look as though they haven't been altered since before the last war, while the horse stalls and parade ring too seem to have been unchanged in any of our lifetimes.  The stands are rickety, the steps uneven and the Tote is essentially a hole in the wall.

It is wonderful.  You can smell the history and tradition.  More importantly, you can see that the Oakbank committee has remained true to its roots.  It is a country, picnic racecourse and, despite the huge numbers that attend the track over Easter, it remains a picnic racecourse.   They have not been seduced into a ghastly 'modernisation'.  They have sought to attract the corporate dollar through offering a unique product, not by trying to make the track into something it isn't.  Kudos to them and long may this remain the case.

We shall be back at Oakbank at Easter (of course), along with about half the state's population and the atmosphere will then be very different - not queuing to put a bet on then will be nothing more than a dream. Nevertheless, we most earnestly hope that the committee continues to remain true to the real essence of Oakbank and we urge them most sincerely, between now and then, to do absolutely nothing.  Long may Oakbank avoid all change!